Friday, 6 May 2016

Silverstone Grand Prix 10k 2016

The Silverstone Grand Prix 10k race is a midweek race hosted by Silson Joggers and takes place on the Silverstone motor racing circuit. The race has been held here since 1984 and 2016 marked the 33rd running of the race. It comprises the East Midlands Grand Prix Series, the Milton Keynes Schools Challenge and the Motor Sports Challenge. The race is also open to handcycle and wheelchair athletes.

I entered as an affiliated runner online for a very reasonable £10.50 (and that also included the admin fee that Runner's World apply). Even with this race being a midweek affair, it still manages to attract a very large field and with over 1,000 entrants is actually the largest 10k road race in the Midlands. Being held at a race track that is used to coping with 300,000 people on F1 race day, the 1,172 runners plus their supporters were barely a blip on the venue's radar.

silverstone [photo:dani]

The Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit was built on the site of the former World War II bomber station, RAF Silverstone. This was home to Wellington Bombers during the war, but soon after the war had ended it started to be used for motor racing. The track itself has been modified and improved many times over the years and Silverstone is, of course, best known as the home of the British Formula 1 Grand Prix.

After driving over from Dartford earlier in the day and spending the afternoon hanging out in Towcester, we reached the venue just a few minutes before 5.30pm which was the earliest possible time that we would be allowed onsite. The Silverstone staff put us in a holding area with a few other early birds until they were ready for us to enter the car park. The car park itself is located within the perimeter of the track so we had to cross the track via a couple of bridges before we reached it.

pre-race [photos: 7t / dani]

The Race HQ was located inside one of the pit garages and after collecting my number (with in-built timing chip) had plenty of time to mill around taking photos before starting my warm up. The toilets were about 100 metres away from the pits and were more than sufficient for the numbers of people on-site for the event. The Silverstone gift shop and the Paddock Cafe were both open so we milled around those too.

The wheelchair race got under way at 7.25pm and the main race followed at 7.30pm. The participants generally started to get in position about 20 minutes beforehand and there was a great atmosphere as we waited in the warm spring evening's sun for things to kick off. Eventually my wife and daughter had to leave the start area and they found a nice spot to watch from the pit lane. After they left, I bumped into a former Dartford Harriers runner who was the race adjudicator for the evening.


The 10 kilometres are made up by running two, clockwise laps of the pre-2010 main circuit which is called 'The Bridge Circuit'. The Bridge Circuit has now been decommissioned for motor racing, mostly because the bridge itself is in very close proximity to the track and has been deemed unsafe, especially for motorcycle racers. For the record, in 2010 the track facilities were upgraded and a new, modified track layout was introduced. This new track layout is not used for the 10k race.

As you may have gathered, this race takes place on a 100% tarmac course and although there are a couple of small changes in elevation, it's all very gentle and can only be classified as being flat. Perfect conditions for an outing in my New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v2 running shoes which are becoming a favourite of mine. At 7.30 sharp, the air horn was sounded and we all headed off down National Pits Straight.

halfway [photos: dani]

Before the race I had thought about what kind of time I would be able to run on a flat 10k course and based on my recent 5k time of 20.35 at the Dartford Heath 5k, I predicted a finish time of around 43 minutes with a perfect race possibly allowing me to dip just under that and into the 42's - a few various online calculators suggested the same. I had also managed to forget to bring my stopwatch so although I had my phone's GPS fired up to track my route, I wasn't able to check any splits while out on the course.

So I reached the first corner, Copse, then proceeded through Maggots which for the evening was dubbed 'the bend of noise' and was manned by a a group of about 20 children with various noise making devices and instruments. Then followed Becketts and Chapel. Trying to hit the apex at each corner was difficult due to the sheer numbers of runners, but I stayed patient and didn't do anything silly. Some of the corners were taken a little wider than I would have liked but there was no other choice.

approaching the finish / supporters [photos:dani]

Along Hanger Straight and through Stowe, along Vale and into Club. It's at this point that the course reaches the new starting grid and the striking new building called 'Silverstone Wing' - this houses the brand new pit lane and race control areas which have been necessary to ensure Silverstone remains the home of British Motorsport.

After this, the course reaches Abbey, Farm and Bridge before entering the twistiest section through Priory, Brooklands and Luffield. This is followed by the long sweeping right hander at Woodcote which leads back onto the National Pits Straight. I have no idea exactly how long it took to run that first lap because I didn't look at the trackside clock to check, but I did spot my wife and daughter and gave them a quick wave. Looking at my Strava data it looks like I hit the 5k point in around 20.40.

finish [photos: dani]

So I continued onto lap 2 where there was a water stop just after the 5k point but I just focussed on the road ahead and got on with the job. As I reached 'the bend of noise' for a second time the track was less congested so I held up my hand a got about 20 hi-fives in a row from the children, which made me smile and I felt a little more relaxed for a bit.

For the rest of the second lap, I found myself neck-and-neck with a fellow runner and I found it really useful to have someone to run alongside. However, as I reached the beginning of the 9th kilometre I started to fade (this section has a little teeny-weeny rise in elevation so I think that lost me a bit of pace - it was four seconds slower than my previous 3 kilometres). Once through that and into the last kilometre I managed to pick the pace up and catch up with and overtake my 2nd lap companion. The cheers from the crowds as I headed into the pit lane towards the finish line really gave me a boost to put in a strong finish.

medal [photos 7t / dani]

Overall, that second lap was a tad slower than the first and I've worked out that it took me 20.51 to complete it. That gave me an overall chip time of 41.31 which was way quicker than I would have thought possible in what I thought was my current shape, so I'm very happy with that. Putting this time into a race time predictor suggests that I could be just about fit enough to run a sub-20 5k again, so I'm looking forward to having a crack at that pretty soon.

Back to Silverstone, and with the race complete I was very grateful to be handed a bottle of water followed by my race medal. The water was my main priority as I could feel my legs starting to cramp up a little. After downing it I was reunited with my wife and daughter and we headed off to the car to have our post-race evening picnic while watching a great sunset. We'd all had a thoroughly good time and thought the race was very well organised - definitely worth the 200 mile round trip and who knows, we might even make a return trip again in the future.

sunset etc [photos: dani]

A few race stats...

Time (chip): 41.31
Time (gun): 41.35
5k splits: 20:40 / 20.51 (estimated)
Position (gun): 172 / 1,172
Official results: Silverstone 10k 2016 (mobile)
GPS data: Silverstone 10k 2016

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Bedgebury Pinetum parkrun

I first heard of Bedgebury Forest and Bedgebury Pinetum back in 2011 when I ran the Bedgebury Forest Trailblazer 10k. That was pretty much the last time I made a plan on a Saturday morning that didn't involve parkrun. I have to be honest and say I wasn't entirely sure what a pinetum was, so I looked it up and found out that it is 'a plantation of pine trees or other conifers planted for scientific or ornamental purposes'.

adventure in a world of trees [photo:7t]

Bedgebury Pinetum sits within the 'High Weald Area of Natural Beauty' in Kent and is a pretty special place. It was established in 1925 and covers 325 acres. With over 10,000 trees it is recognised as the most complete collection of conifers anywhere in the world. The land used for the pinetum was once part of the Bedgebury Estate, which after changing hands a few times over the years, finally wound up in the safe hands of the Forestry Commission when they took over the management of the pinetum in 1969.

pinetum and lake [photo:7t]

The work that takes place here is of great importance to the conservation of conifers and it is part of the International Conifer Conservation Programme. The collection is continually expanding and the site is used for 'ex situ conservation' which is the process of protecting an endangered species outside of its natural habitat. This is typically used when the specimen's natural habitat is under threat. The pinetum is also home to Kent's tallest tree which is a 51 metre tall Grand Fir called 'Old Man of Kent'.

bluebells at the meeting point [photo:dani]

The Pinetum and Forest also offers visitors some activities to do - There is a children's play area, a Go Ape treetop adventure centre, and the Quench Cycles bicycle hire centre. The bike trails extend outside the pinetum and into the forest itself which covers an additional 2,600 acres. At time of writing there is a Stick Man Trail and a Gruffalo Orienteering course. There are also Gruffalo and Gruffalo's child sculptures hiding somewhere in the Pinetum. And then of course there is the reason I am writing this blog...

start line [photo:7t]

On 19 March 2016, Bedgebury Pinetum parkrun had its inaugural event. The initial few weeks saw attendance figures in excess of 100, but that had eased off a little now that things have settled down. At time of writing (April 2016) the venue is attracting around 100 runners per week. I visited on 30 April 2016 at event 7 where 137 runners took part, which was quite a bit higher than recent weeks. Then again, we did visit on a really beautiful morning and this was also the weekend after the London Marathon so I suspect those things helped to motivate the extra people to come along.

found in the playground, which the runners pass through [photo:7t]

Unless you live close enough to cycle or walk, the only realistic way to reach this venue is by car, and car parking is available on-site from 8am. However it might work out pretty expensive - if you drive, park, run and leave before 10.30am you can pay £3. But if you want to stay on past that time then you are going to have to cough up the full £12 weekend parking fee, which is what we did as we really wanted to spend the day here. All of the money raised through car parking fees goes straight back into making Bedgebury Pinetum the great place it is.

it's all uphill from here, well the next kilometre [photo:7t]

For anyone planning to run here on a regular basis the Friends of Bedgebury offer an annual membership of £66 that includes unlimited car parking. It's also worth noting that Bedgebury Pinetum have the option to land your helicopter or hot air balloon on-site, but please note that if you are planning to arrive for parkrun via one of these methods, you will have to pre-arrange this. That is of course unless you are the Kent Air Ambulance which landed while we were there to tend to an injured mountain biker (broken arm from what I gather).

pinetum [photo:7t]

So if you did want to try to reach the venue without a car, helicopter or hot air balloon, Etchingham is the nearest national rail station - however it is apparently a 30 minute cycle ride from the station. I'm not even going to work out how long it'd take to walk that. Another option would be to travel to Tunbridge Wells by train and then take the 254 bus which will get you as far as the village of Filmwell and the walk from there looks a little more reasonable even if there are no pavements.

the bridge at 3.3km that takes you across marshals lake [photo:dani]

Once on-site, you'll find plenty of bicycle racks dotted around the place - this is mostly down to the fact that one of the big attractions are the aforementioned mountain bike trails. There is a cafe which has toilets and showers. For some reason I had trouble finding the meeting point for the parkrun, I knew it was fairly close to the car park, but I didn't spot any sign of parkrun's existence. I asked a fellow runner who pointed me up a path heading towards the Go Ape centre - when I reached the Go Ape hut I followed the path round to the left. From this point I could see lots of hi-vis vests and the finish funnel.

pinetum [photo:7t]

The pre-run main briefing took place right at the start line, which is a bit of a squeeze as the runners are penned into a fenced area with them only able to pass through an open gate. Once through the path is wide enough to enable the runners to jostle themselves into the correct positions. Underfoot you will find hard paths which are mostly either gravelly or stony. So although trail shoes may come in handy in the winter they certainly are not required during dry conditions. Buggy runners will be fine, but there are some sections that could be a little bumpy for the occupant.

meandering pinetum paths [photo:7t]

The course is essentially one single, anti-clockwise 5km loop. It starts with a kilometre of uphill running where my GPS data says that I climbed 42 metres. Then it undulates a little before rewarding you with two kilometres of downhill running where I apparently dropped 59 metres in elevation. Up to this point the running had taken place within forest areas which are nice but the thick covering of trees does mean that there are no views to appreciate. However, with the paths being a little bumpy around here, I did find that I was looking down quite a lot of the time anyway.

example of some of the terrain underfoot [photo:7t]

At the three kilometre point, the run enters the main part of the pinetum and this is where things become more pleasing to the eye. The paths from here on are in better condition with very little loose gravel or bumps to be found. There is a quirky looking bridge that crosses 'Marshals Lake' which I thought was quite on topic for a parkrun and the paths start to meander a little more. Now if you've done your maths you will already know that the course is now at a lower point than it started, so from around the 3.6km point the paths take you gradually back up hill. There's a short, sharp zig zag to negotiate which is shortly followed by the sight of the lake, cafe and car park.

coming around the lake for the final uphill push [photo:dani]

After a loop of the lake there is a final tough section, part of which is through an avenue of cherry trees which takes the runners back up to the level of the start-finish area. Here they loop around the Go Ape hut and then run the opposite way back along the opening 100 metre stretch to find the finish. I have to admit that I was pretty glad for the 5k to be over - maybe it's because I had run a 5km race just 14 hours before parkrun and I was still feeling the after effects of that.

collecting a hi-five in the avenue of cherry trees [photo:dani]

Barcode scanning took place right next to the finish line. Once that was taken care of, we nipped over to the playground where we could watch the rest of the runners as they made their way towards the finish. The playground was pretty nice - all of the apparatus are made from wood, it has a bit of an adventure-y nautical theme and features lots of sand. There was also a table tennis table with a box containing balls and bats so we popped it open and had a few games.

as much as i loved the course, this sight was very welcome [photo:dani]

Going back to the parkrun - the course was signed and marshalled at a few key points but I couldn't help feeling that it could have done with one or two more marshals out there. One point where this was especially noticeable was the final turn where the runners turn onto the finish straight - there was no signage or marshal here, so if I had followed the standard parkrun and general racing logic (ie carry on running unless a sign or a marshal says otherwise) I would have ended up running a second lap.

barcode scanning [photo:dani]

With parkrun and playing all done with, we headed down to the Bedgebury Cafe for breakfast. It's pretty decent and we all enjoyed our respective veggie options. We were even joined by one of the ducks which decided to wander in from its home on the lake just outside. It was now time to carry on with our day out and we started off by following the Stick Man Trail which included a few fun activities to do along the way.

all about the cafe [photo:7t]

A few hours later we returned to the cafe for some more refreshments and we then headed off home. We were thoroughly exhausted, but had had a brilliant day out at Bedgebury. It's definitely a great place to visit, so if heading down for the parkrun I'd recommend staying for the day. Next time we visit, we are planning on checking out the mountain bike trails.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Run>Dartford: Dartford Heath 5k 2016

The Run>Dartford website and series of races has been set up with inclusivity in mind. The website is full of helpful information on Dartford's running groups and clubs, and should be a really valuable resource for existing and new runners alike. Although the website is free from any kind of club bias, the whole resource has been put together by various people within Dartford Road Runners.

On the back of the website, there is also a summer race series which features five races in five different Dartford locations. They are all low-key affairs and the total number of runners has been limited to 100. Although it is possible to turn up and enter on the night for these races individually, I decided that I might as well enter the whole series. One last detail - runners have been encouraged to wear neutral colours rather than club vests for the series, which should help to maintain the inclusive feel to the events. So I'll be leaving my Dartford Harriers vest at home for these races.

dartford heath [photo:7t]

The first of the series was a Friday night race on Dartford Heath. This is an area of heathland to the South West of Dartford town centre and over the years has gone through a few changes. The first recorded size of the heath was in c.1797 when it was said to be 500 acres in size - over the years, housing and road developments have reduced the size of the heath down to its current 314 acres.

The heath hosted a ceremony in 1660 where King Charles II made an address. In April 1930 a young woman was murdered on the heath when a man quite randomly jumped from some bushes and stabbed her in the back - he was subsequently caught and sentenced to death. During WW2 anti-aircraft guns were installed on the heath. These days the heath is recognised as an area of outstanding natural beauty and also a valuable habitat for wildlife.

i will be runner 53 for the entire series [photo:7t]

So back to the race. The course was 5 kilometres and was just under two laps around the heath. It's difficult to describe the course in full but it was run mostly on dry dirt paths with the rest of the course covered on grass. The heath is essentially flat but there were a few short, sharp inclines to negotiate on the way round. Another fun, but challenging feature was a series of steps to run down - it was harder than it sounds!

Something that is special with this series is that all of the results are being published, not in order of finishing time, but in order of age-graded finish time percentages. All prizes at the end of the series will also be allocated by age grade. It's a great idea and it certainly makes things a little more interesting. There are no individual race medals on offer, however, anybody that completes a minimum of 4 races will receive a bespoke Run>Dartford medal.

meeting place and finish area [photo:7t]

So, my race. Well. I made a couple of errors. Firstly I ate a banana 10 minutes before the race started and this did not sit well in my belly during the race - I felt tight all around my stomach and really suffered. Secondly, I went out way too hard, which on top of being silly probably made the issue with the banana worse than it would have been otherwise.

I was in fourth place at the end of the first lap, but I had a miserable second lap and was overtaken by at least 10 runners which was not a nice feeling - it's also one that I'm not used to as I don't often make the mistake of going out too hard. After looking at my splits I was disappointed with my 4th kilometre that was massively slower than the others, but after checking some other runners data, they had a similar pattern so I actually don't feel as bad about that as I did.

in action [photo: keith harvey]

On the plus side I did record my best 5k time (20.35) since about this time last year, so that was quite nice. That gave me a 65.83% age grading and I am currently sitting in 14th place in the overall age-grading based points table for the series.

Time: 20.35
Position (based on age grade): 14th
Full results: Dartford Heath 5k 2016
Current points in the table: 65.83 (currently in 14th position)


Sunday, 24 April 2016

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v2 (kids)

I've been testing the adult version of the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante v2 for a while and really like it. So when I found out that New Balance had also produced a children's version of the shoe, I thought it'd be great to test that one too. Of course, I wouldn't be testing it, that honour has gone to my five year old daughter.

new balance fresh foam zante v2

I'll start this post off with the official text and product details from New Balance:

Main Description: Feeling fast is step one in getting an advantage on your competition. Fresh Foam Zante v2 gives you that edge with a sleek, bootie-like fit that's streamlined and ready for speed. In bold, bright colours, this running show is also a serious style player.

Product Details: Designed for a quick heel to toe transition, this aggressive boys' / girls' running shoe has a faster feel that will help you stay motivated -- whether you're running laps at school or training for your first race.
  • IMEVA (injection-moulded EVA foam) midsole for firm yet flexible cushioning.
  • Mesh upper
Fresh Foam: Innovative midsole created from a single piece of foam that provides a plush, more natural ride.

Colour options: (the v indicates the colour schemes that come with velcro instead of laces)
  • Purple with orange / Orange with Pink / Blackberry with Orange (v) / Orange with Berry (v)
  • Grey with Red and Dark Grey / Grey with Red (v)
Sizes: UK10 (EU28) - UK6.4 (EU40)

UK RRP: £38.00

- - - - -

ready to test them out at bushy junior parkrun

This is the first pair of running shoes that my daughter has had, and I have to start off by congratulating New Balance on a great looking shoe. The adult version of this shoe had me gushing, but this mini-version just pushed me over the edge - it is so cute! But cute doesn't make for a good running shoe, and that's all I've got at this stage. So in order to find out what the shoe is like I need to try to coax some information out of my daughter...

Me: What do you think of the design of these running shoes?
Lime: I love the colours, especially the pink parts. I love the way the 'N' changes colour from top to bottom. 

Me: How do they feel when you wear them?
Lime: They feel great, Papa.

Me: And how did you feel when you were running?
Lime: Super speedy.

Me: If you could change anything, what would it be?
Lime: I would have a bigger size because they are a little tight around the toes.

For clarity, the toe box looks to have plenty of space relative to the shoe itself and the tightness my daughter is experiencing seems to have more to do with the fact that she could have done with a shoe half-a-size bigger than the test pair we received rather than any kind of design issue.

The shoes are also very light so it's nice for her not to be lugging around a weighty pair of shoes like she has done previously when she used her regular everyday trainers. I weighed the pair that we have (size UK10.5 / EU28.5) to test and the scales reported a feather-like 140g.

new balance fresh foam v2 sole

The design of the sole of the shoe is almost identical to the adult version, so based on my own experience I would say that this shoe should be super-grippy on tarmac but not so great on wet grass (they are fine on dry grass) or muddy trails. If your child is regularly running on those types of surfaces, it might be worth checking out the New Balance 690 Trail. We haven't tried that shoe, but it looks rugged enough to cope with whatever comes its way.

Going back to the Zante v2, we can't find any fault in them. They do the intended job nicely and my daughter loves them. What more could you want?

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